CNBC’s Gasparino Problem

Charlie Gasparino has outdone himself today. He reasonably blames much of the current financial crisis on "a lack of leadership from Washington" — but somehow manages to convince himself that it’s Obama’s leadership which is lacking, rather than Paulson’s or Bush’s. "An Obama Panic?" says the headline; the subhed is "Markets Fear His Policies".

Overall, his plan includes some of the most lethal tax increases imaginable, including a jump in the capital-gains rate. He’d expand government spending massively, with everything from new public-works projects to increases in foreign aid to a surge in Afghanistan – plus hand out a token $500 welfare check that he calls a tax cut to everyone else.

This is clearly the wrong way to go in the wake of an economic meltdown – yet Obama, for all his talk of how willing he is to compromise, of how he’d bring people together, is sticking to his tax guns.

This is bensteinery of the first order: not only is it ill-argued, it’s also utterly wrongheaded. Yes, it’s a good idea for the government to spend money in a recession. Yes, it’s a good idea to target that money at the poorest members of society, where it will do the most good and have the highest velocity. And no, with stocks down 40%, there really isn’t an enormous number of people worried about capital gains taxes.

Still, one could forgive the litany of GOP talking points on a right-wing op-ed page were it not for the fact that Gasparino styles himself a working reporter. The more you set down your opinions in black and white, the less open-minded you become; this is true of everyone, and especially of stubborn, bull-headed types like Gasparino.

Trust in the financial media is probably at an all-time low right now. CNBC needs less screaming and extremism, and more sobriety and trustworthiness. Even if Gasparino’s political views don’t influence his reporting — which is doubtful — they will reinforce in his viewers’ minds the idea that he’s unreliable. I just can’t see the upside of Gasparino writing a column like this, and I’m surprised that his superiors at CNBC let him get away with it — especially since the Post is owned by Rupert Murdoch, CNBC’s fiercest competitor.

The overall impression from reading this column, then, is twofold: that Gasparino not only lives at the wingnut end of the political spectrum, but that he is powerful enough within CNBC that he can go off and write whatever he likes for whomever he likes whenever he likes. Which means that there’s probably zero editorial control of him within CNBC, as well. (Remember the quote in Bryan Burrough’s Bear Stearns article in Vanity Fair about how "at CNBC, there is simply no adult supervision".) This can’t be good for CNBC’s franchise in the long term, even if it does help Gasparino with his Republican sources on Wall Street.

Update: Gasparino responds. Apparently I’m the wingnut — and a twerpy nutjob, to boot.

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